What Makes Branded Merch Go Viral?

Forget Taylor Swift or the second overtime win in Super Bowl history – one of the most memorable moments from the 2024 Super Bowl came from one of the commercials. Dunkin’ recruited an all-star cast, featuring Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Tom Brady and Jennifer Lopez, for their “DunKings” commercial. Following the ad spot, the goofy branded tracksuits and hats sported by the celebs were made available for purchase on Dunkin’s merch website.

It’s a perfect example of the dream for any brand: their branded merch going viral. What can other companies learn from Dunkin’s success?

Choose the Right Brand Ambassadors

To be fair, most companies are not going to be able to have Hollywood mega-stars wearing their branded merch on one of the most-watched TV ads of the year. The use of these celebrity guests, however, does point to the power of brand advocates and ambassadors to cut through a crowded marketing landscape.

According to the American Marketing Association, 75% of consumers consider word of mouth a key factor in their purchasing decisions, and brand advocates offer a way for companies to harness that personal trust. Getting your branded merch to reach beyond your immediate circle of current customers requires having the right people wearing, sharing, and representing it. Consider your target audience and/or demographic: who is your brand for, and who would be the most effective representative for it? What values does your brand convey, and who is the most likely to want to, quite literally, wear those values on their sleeves?

“Branded merch is an extension of the lifestyle your product caters to. And branded merch done right can certainly elevate your brand with your targeted audience and create the perception you want for it,” Wave app cofounder Brad Warsh told Forbes. “Merch is an actual visual representation of the audience you want to speak to. You design your merch for the person you see using your product — and photograph it on them as well.”

Have Some Fun

Aside from major luxury brands, where their branding is seen as a true status symbol, most brands are going to have an uphill battle convincing people to essentially become walking billboards for their company. In particular, today’s younger generations, including the all-important Millennial and Gen Z consumers, have come of age in a marketing-saturated world, They’re harder to convince and a little more cynical about branding. The way to get around that? Make it fun!

The branded merch that goes viral is the stuff that taps into a certain type of cultural zeitgeist. Most viral moments happen because they provide a sense of surprise, humor, or clever wit. When crafting branded merch with an eye on going viral, try more of a lighthearted approach. Can your brand connect to an existing viral trend, quote, or moment? Is there a trendy style that you can create a deliberate homage to? Is there anything about your brand that lends itself to a pun or other wordplay? Delivering that “OMG!” moment is how you get people talking.

Surround with a Multimedia Campaign

The “Dunkings” merch wouldn’t have had nearly the impact it did without the surrounding campaign. Viral branded merch comes from a different angle than your “typical” promotional products. Where the classic approach to promotional products is as a supporting piece – perhaps as a customer appreciation gift, a tradeshow giveaway, or for employee recognition – merch that’s meant to go viral is the star of the show.

That’s why it’s important to consider the whole campaign, not just the merch itself. How can you best support your brand profile as a whole, with the merch as the centerpiece? A well-rounded campaign might include social media posts, direct mail pieces accompanying the merch, print or web ads, and more.

Getting customers in on the game is part of a winning strategy, too. Consumers are 2.4 times more likely to view user-generated content as trustworthy, versus content directly from brands, according to HubSpot. If you’re hoping to create a viral moment with your latest merch drop, invite fans to be part of the promotion. Direct them to use a particular hashtag, reshare their content on your brand’s platforms, or even hold a contest. The more involvement you get, the more positive brand exposure you’ll have.

Grow Your Brand with Priority Promotions

At Priority Promotions, our marketing and communications experts know just what to do to get your brand the kind of attention you want. We work across print, digital, and promotional products, with an integrated marketing approach to craft a unique and memorable brand identity and achieve your goals. Whether you’re just testing out the branded merch waters or you’re looking to create a viral moment of your own – we’re here to bring your vision to life!

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